DVD & Blu-ray

Blu-ray: Heat (1995)

For those not familiar with the story, it details the slow-burn clash between a highly sophisticated crew of L.A. thieves (led by Robert De Niro) and the detective (Al Pacino) who is obsessively chasing them.

It remains Mann’s best work: an outstanding portrait of two seemingly unstoppable forces colliding amidst the backdrop of a stunningly realised Los Angeles.

Although well received at the time, it was perhaps seen as a high-grade genre piece and nothing more. But its status has grown exponentially since, with the new transfer enhancing a film over twenty years old.

Many other things could be said about Heat: the last truly great performances of Pacino and De Niro, a raft of excellent support in the brilliant ensemble cast; superb visuals by Dante Spinotti; an immense sound design and score by Elliot Goldenthal, with memorable musical contributions by Moby and Brian Eno.

Overseen by director Michael Mann, this Blu-ray was sourced from a new 4K remaster by Stefan Sonnenfeld of Company 3 and looks far superior to the 2009 version. have some technical details:

If you have a very large screen or a projector you will immediately notice improvements in terms of depth and fluidity. The difference is especially obvious during close-ups — as virtually all of them have a much ‘tighter’ appearance now — but during larger panoramic shots delineation is also superior.

During a lot of the indoor footage the images also appear better balanced and smoother (not artificially repolished with digital tools). To be perfectly clear, the darker/indoor footage actually makes it quite clear that the master that was used to produce the release is of exceptionally high-quality because density is quite simply outstanding.

Image stability is outstanding.”

What of the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track?

“…outstanding. It has an excellent range of nuanced dynamics and during the shootouts intensity is fantastic.

I did some direct comparisons during the famous bank sequence at the end of the film and I want to specifically mention that the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track from the previous release actually does a pretty good job of reproducing many, if not all, of the same qualities that define the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track.

Where the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track appears to have an edge is the expanded depth, though I can only speculate about the type of remastering work that might have been done to improve it. There are no mastering defects to report.”

The second disc has all the extras of the previous DVD and Blu-ray releases (which were plentiful) but perhaps the most significant new additions feature: Mann discussing the film at the 2015 Toronto Film Festival (31 mins) and Christopher Nolan hosting an Academy discussion featuring Mann, De Niro, Pacino and other crew (64 mins).

Here is the full list of extras:

  • NEW 4K REMASTER of the film: Supervised by director Michael Mann.
  • Lossless Audio Track: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Filmmaker Panel: Newly recorded presentation and discussion of Heat organized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Hosted by writer-director Christopher Nolan, it features actors Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, Amy Brenneman, Diane Venora and Mykelti Williamson, writer/director Michael Mann, cinematographer Dante Spinotti, executive producer Pieter Jan Brugge, editor William Goldenberg, producer Art Linson, and re-recording mixer Andy Nelson. September 2016. (60 min).
  • Filmmaker Panel: Toronto International Film Festival presentation and discussion – celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Heat. Recorded in 2015. (35 min).
  • Audio commentary: By director Michael Mann
  • Five Featurettes:
    • True Crime: Recalling the real-life Chicago cop and criminal whose exploits inspired the film
    • Crime Stories: The screenplay’s 20-year history and how the film finally got greenlit
    • Into the Fire: Filming in L.A., cast training, shooting the climactic downtown heist and post-production
    • Pacino and De Niro: The conversation: anatomy of this historic on-screen showdown
    • Return to the Scene of the Crime: Revisiting the film’s real-life L.A. locations years later
    • 11 Additional scenes

The newly restored Blu-ray of Heat (1995) is out now from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment UK

> Buy the Blu-ray from Amazon UK
> Video essay on how Heat blends realism with style (Spoilers)
> Video about the famous shoot-out sequence (Spoilers)

DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

DVD: The Panic in Needle Park

The film which provided Al Pacino with his breakout role is also a vivid glimpse into the drug culture of New York in the early 1970s.

‘Needle Park’ was the nickname given to an actual location in New York’s Upper West Side, located near 72nd Street and Broadway, where real-life junkies congregated in Verdi and Sherman Square.

The ‘panic’ refers to the period of time when there weren’t a lot of drugs on the market, due to other factors such as suppliers being busted, and the subsequent desperation felt by users as they searched in vain for their next fix.

A drama set amongst a group of heroin addicts in this area, the story pivots around the relationship between a small-time hustler (Al Pacino) and a drifting woman (Kitty Winn).

It was notable for the cluster of talented people involved in bringing it to the screen: photographer-turned-director Jerry Schatzberg had established himself in features with Puzzle of a Downfall Child (1970); Dominick Dunne produced whilst his brother John Gregory Dunne co-wrote the screenplay with Joan Didion.

The commitment to realism isn’t surprising, given that the writers were two acclaimed journalists, and the film was adapted from a 1965 Life magazine piece, and subsequent book written by James Mills.

Schatzberg was part of the New Hollywood generation influenced by the techniques and style of the French New Wave, which emphasised immediacy and utilised new camera technology to depict reality on location, rather than the grand sound stages of Hollywood.

Perhaps the most obvious American comparison is with Midnight Cowboy (1969), which also depicted lost souls struggling in the poorer side of New York.

It is not a coincidence that both films share the same cinematographer, Adam Holender, who shoots with a raw vérité style, featuring terrific use of real New York locations, including the park of the title and hotels in the surrounding area.

Avoiding the usual establishing shots of the New York skyline and utilising long lenses to film on actual streets, the film captures the energy of the city and the characters trying to survive within it.

Absolutely rooted in the time it was shot, it also has a striking fidelity to the subject matter: not only does the central relationship feel convincing, but the unflinching depictions of drug use have even caused problems with UK censors.

The graphic scenes of people shooting up, the matter-of-fact approach to dealers as well as the wider heroin and drug culture is pervasive, giving it a jolting ring of authenticity.

The production even used a location that attracted the attention of real life drug-dealers and prostitutes, who greeted them as equals (!), which was perhaps a testament to the actors and filmmaker’s commitment to realism.

Lacking a conventional score (or indeed any music at all) also gives everything a special atmosphere, with no audio cues to guide us as to what we should think or feel.

Pacino is fiery and convincing, displaying the young charm and energy which marked out his early work – it isn’t hard to see why Francis Ford Coppola wanted to cast him in The Godfather (1972) after seeing this.

Kitty Winn is equally strong with a performance, full of feeling and raw innocence which later won her the Best Actress Award at the Cannes film festival.

Although she had a supporting role in The Exorcist (1973) it is sad that she retired from acting relatively early.

Unlike conventional Hollywood narratives, the central relationship is interesting as they fall in love early in the film and their addiction seems to be to each another, as much as it is to heroin.

Films depicting characters from different social backgrounds run the risk of phoniness, but to the credit of the actors they really sell the central relationship.

Their day-to-day existence is well evoked because it blends the rough with the smooth – despite the grim world they inhabit, the film bravely doesn’t shy away from the synthetic highs of drug use and the natural high of love.

Richard Bright is well cast as Pacino’s brother – a burglar who just happens to wears a suit – and Raul Julia has a small but key role as Winn’s former artist boyfriend.

There is also an interesting little role for Arnold Williams, who you might remember as one of the cab drivers in Live and Let Die (1973), and a cameo from Paul Sorvino as a man being questioned in a police station.

Cops and detectives are played by the likes of Alan Vint and Joe Santos as unsentimental foot soldiers just doing their job.

Although the general air of the film is bleak, it is refreshing to see an American film with such a European vibe, unafraid to take its time and really spend time with characters and their surroundings.

The camera work is highly effective, as the steady, unfussy compositions depict events with an unerring eye: one wordless scene showing how heroin is prepared in a makeshift factory has a calm, almost sinister quality to it.

Indeed, the graphic scenes of drug use – as junkies inject needles into scarred arms – are more likely to put off potential users than encourage people to shoot up.

One memorable line of dialogue neatly captures the seedy nihilism of this world, when one addict says that death is the “best high of all”.

Also take note of the scenes in which dialogue is kept to a minimum, as the images are eloquently used by Schatzberg to reveal a great deal.

There are also some little touches which stick out in retrospect: the little dog called Rocky, which Pacino’s character says “sounds like a prizefighter” (Sylvester Stallone’s boxing film was a few years off) and a ferry scene has shades of Pacino’s later turn in Insomnia (2002).

Further movie connections are also hard to resist: Pacino is buying drugs from the same New York dealers who Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) was trying to bust in William Friedkin’s The French Connection (1971); Pacino and Hackman would go on to star up in Schaztberg’s next film, Scarecrow (1973), whilst Winn would star in Friedkin’s subsequent movie, The Exorcist (1973).

Commendably, the ending doesn’t feature a pat moral lesson and feels brave, even for a film made in an era where American directors weren’t afraid of being bold and experimental.

Look out too for an interesting final shot, reminiscent of a certain Bob Dylan album cover (The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan), although not the one Schatzberg actually took as a photographer (Blonde on Blonde).

Although a significant film of the New Hollywood era, the grim milieu has perhaps prevented it from wider cultural recognition outside of the cinephile realm.

It isn’t a film that often crops up on television, possibly because it was an independent production picked up by a major studio, which means there may have been rights issues or it is just regarded as a bleak oddity by commercially minded TV schedulers.

Although it has been available on VHS and DVD before, there is no Blu-ray release, which is a shame as it is a snapshot of an era when US films could take greater risks with form and subject matter.

Schatzberg is still revered in Cannes, as earlier this year his photo of Faye Dunaway adorned the Croisette as the official image of the 64th festival, ahead of a screening of his first film.

As the 1970s progressed, he would go on to make acclaimed films such as Scarecrow (1973) but as the 1980s arrived his sensibility was at odds with the prevailing commercial climate in Hollywood and US cinema.

Despite this The Panic in Needle Park holds up remarkably well: not only was it an early gathering of significant artistic talents, but it remains a powerful depiction of life on the margins of city and the daily struggle of people who get ignored.


Panic in the Streets of New York (24.20): Director Jerry Schatzberg and cinematographer Adam Holender discuss the making of the film. Among the interesting things they talk about include:

  • The producers did a deal with Fox, who didn’t like the idea of Pacino in the lead.
  • Robert De Niro was also up for the Pacino role but Schatzberg felt Al was more a kid of the streets.
  • Cinematographer Adam Holender was influenced by The Battle of Algiers and its approach to shooting reality.
  • They wanted to shoot an ‘enhanced reality’ on the streets of New York, by using long lenses (400 and 600 mm lenses) which meant that actors were sometimes two blocks away (no video assist in those days).
  • This visual style compressed the actors on the street and gave them a freedom to move even on a location.
  • Pacino and Schatzberg had direct experience of people with drug problems
  • Needle Park came into being because addicts could buy and shoot up drugs there without going up to Harlem

Writing in Needle Park (08.52): Writer Joan Didion describes the background to the story, the production and her subsequent career.

  • Didion was not in the WGA at the time and developed the project without knowing much about how a movie was made.
  • The Upper West Side was considered ‘beyond the pale’ then – very different to the gentrified area it has become.
  • Filming on location influenced the way it was shot and the actors were cramped into real places.
  • AVCO Embassy (under famed financier/producer Joe Levine) optioned it and sold it as ‘Romeo and Juliet on junk’
  • The writers originally saw the female character as the lead
  • It didn’t really make any money but was acclaimed in Cannes and well received in the business.

The Panic in Needle Park is released on DVD on September 5th by Second Sight

> Pre-order the DVD here on Amazon UK
> The Panic in Needle Park at the IMDb
> Jerry Schtazberg at MUBi
> The original 1965 article that led to the book and film
> Life magazine on the drug movies of the early 1970s

DVD & Blu-ray

Scarface on Blu-ray

Universal have announced the Blu-ray release of Brian De Palma’s Scarface on Blu-ray in September.

The 1983 crime drama charts the rise of Cuban gangster Tony Montana (Al Pacino) as he arrives in Florida with his friend Manny (Steven Bauer) and starts working for a local crime boss (Robert Loggia).

Written by Oliver Stone and featuring a score by Giorgio Moroder, the film has grown in popularity and influence over the years (especially with footballers, rappers and people who work on Wall St) with the AFI listing it in their top gangster films of all time in 2008.

For this edition, the main selling point is the hi-def transfer, a 7.1 audio mix and a new batch of exclusive extras created especially for this release.

Some of the bonus features are carried over from the previous DVD version, but let’s hope they also keep the impossibly funky music bed which was on that menu.

BONUS FEATURES (*Denotes all new content)

  • *The Scarface Phenomenon: This all-new documentary presents Scarface as a unique phenomenon in cinema history. It explores how a film plagued by controversy leading up to its release has become a Hollywood classic, influencing a whole new generation of filmmakers and leaving a lasting imprint on popular culture.
  • Deleted Scenes
  • The World of Tony Montana: Experience the world of the ultimate gangster and hear from experts on the real world violence, fear and paranoia that surrounds a drug lord.
  • The Rebirth: Director Brian De Palma, producer Martin Bregman, actor Al Pacino, and screenwriter Oliver Stone revisit the history of Scarface, from the inspiration of the original Howard Hawks classic to the evolution of the script.
  • The Acting: Join the filmmakers, Al Pacino and Steven Bauer to discover how each of the roles was cast and how Brian De Palma worked with his actors to get unforgettable performances
  • The Creating: A fascinating, controversial and definitive journey through the making of the film, which began with the production being forced to leave its initial location in Florida. Discover how the chainsaw scene was filmed, learn about the production design, the photography, and the struggle to get the film an “R” rating in the US.
  • Scarface: The TV Version: A revealing and hilarious montage of film clips comparing the theatrical version to the network television version of Scarface.
  • The Making of Scarface the Video Game: Immerse yourself in the world of Scarface in this behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the video game.•
  • *U-CONTROL Features
    • Scarface Scoreboard: Watch Scarface like never before. Keep track of the number of times the “F” word is used and monitor the bullets fired.
    • Picture in Picture: Access interview footage of Brian De Palma, Al Pacino, Screenwriter Oliver Stone, and others without interruption to the movie experience.
    • Also featured is a scene comparison between the 1983 version of Scarface and Howard Hawks’ original film.
  • *BD-LIVE™: Access the BD-Live™ Centre through your Internet-connected player to get even more content, watch the latest trailers and more.
  • POCKET BLU™ APP: Universal’s groundbreaking pocket BLU™ app uses iPhone™, iPod® touch, Smartphone, Android™, PC and Macintosh to work seamlessly with a network-connected Blu-ray™ player and offers advanced features such as:
    • ADVANCED REMOTE CONTROL: A sleek, elegant new way to operate your Blu-ray™ player. Users can navigate through menus, playback and BD-Live™ functions with ease.
    • VIDEO TIMELINE: Users can easily bring up the video timeline, allowing them to instantly access any point in the movie.
    • MOBILE-TO-GO: Users can unlock a selection of bonus content with their Blu-ray™ discs to save to mobile devices or to stream from anywhere there’s a Wi-Fi network, enabling them to enjoy exclusive content on the go, anytime, anywhere.
    • KEYBOARD: Enter data into a Blu-ray™ player with your device’s easy and intuitive keyboard to facilitate such Blu-ray™ features as chatting with friends and sending messages.
> More on Scarface at Wikipedia and IMDb
> Original trailer

The Godfather Screen Tests

How would The Godfather worked out if Robert De Niro played Sonny Corleone and James Caan played Michael?

These screen tests give an interesting glimpse of what might have been.

Here is De Niro as Sonny:

As for the critical role of Michael Corleone, this video shows Al Pacino, James Caan and Martin Sheen auditioning for the part alongside Diane Keaton:

The tests were edited by Marcia Lucas (wife of George) who went on to edit Star Wars (1977).

> The Godfather at Wikipedia
> Details on The Godfather Blu-ray release


Al Pacino on 60 Minutes

Al Pacino turns 70 this week and recently sat down for a 60 Minutes interview with Katie Couric where they discussed his life and career, including his upcoming role as Dr. Jack Kevorkian in HBOs You Don’t Know Jack.

CBS also included some extra footage on their website.

There is the story of a night when his car broke down and an old couple were surprised to see him at their house asking for help:

Watch CBS News Videos Online

He also addresses his role in Scarface and the accusation of overacting:

Watch CBS News Videos Online

They also speak about the parts he turned down including Born on the Fourth of July, Kramer vs Kramer and Pretty Woman:

Watch CBS News Videos Online

And he jokes about the process of being interviewed:

Watch CBS News Videos Online



88 Mins really is that bad

I remember last year seeing a poster in Cannes for 88 Mins – the Al Pacino thriller that has just opened in the US to universally awful reviews.

At the time I assumed it was one of the many promotional posters that adorn the Croisette during the festival, but it was actually one for the local cinema.

I remember thinking ‘why hasn’t it opened in the US or UK’ yet? The answer would appear to be that this was some kind of crazily financed vanity project that went horribly wrong.

Todd McCarthy of Variety points to some of the film’s glaring flaws:

88 Minutes can’t even live up to its title. With 19 — count ’em, 19 — producers, including director Jon Avnet, ensuring that every aspect of the film, from the script to the star’s haircut, is ludicrous in the extreme, the picture easily snatches from “Revolution” the prize as Al Pacino’s career worst.

Available on DVD in some territories as early as February 2007 and rolled out theatrically in France and elsewhere beginning in May of last year, this gape-inducing fiasco is getting a token domestic release that at least saves its star the indignity of a dump straight to homevid.

The presence of 19 producers is just one of the telling signs something was wrong in Pacinoville.

As the dodgy opening credits begin you know things are only going to get worse. And they do – with a vengeance.

The lowlights include:

  • A hammy early sequence involving milk and cookies
  • Pacino’s worst scene ever as an actor when he emotes in a car about a relative
  • Extended scenes that defy any internal logic (e.g. Pacino’s character is informed he has 88 mins to live and swans around like he’s been told it may rain later)
  • A ranty TV debate conducted via phone that is almost a parody of his shouty 90s performances
  • An utterly ludicrous climax that feels like an episode of Scooby Doo at the circus

Check out the other reviews here at Metacritic.